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3. Change Series: Applying the 8-Step Approach

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The 8-step model seems very straightforward when you explain it as in my second blog. But it’s less easy to implement. Let’s go through each step in a little more detail.

Step 1: Create Urgency

“Orchestrating pain messages throughout the institution is the first step in developing organizational commitment to (major) change.”

Rosabeth Moss Kantor former editor Harvard Business Review

In order for people to change they need to have some sense that it’s important. You need to think about how you will create an awareness that change is urgent to achieve. You need to create a pain message.

A popular tool is called the burning platform. As you analyse your change agenda, keep an eye out for the “burning platform” issue.

The term “burning platform” comes from a true story in which four men were left stranded on the burning platform of an the Piper Alpha oil rig on fire in open the North sea in 1967. The men faced the choice of staying where they were and facing certain death- or taking the risky step of jumping into the freezing ocean and risking death from hypothermia. The two men who decided to remain behind perished.

There are two elements to the story. The two who stayed put died. The unacceptable option is staying the same and hoping things get better. Against the odds the two who jumped into the sea survived. The message is sometimes radical risky change is essential. We need to communicate both elements. Ask yourself what is our “burning platform” issue that requires urgent and courageous attention? And what are the negative consequences of no change? Identify both elements.

Step 2: Create the guiding coalition

The second action step is to decide who will guide the change process? – choosing wisely is key here.

Note again there are two elements.

Guiding: this change group doesn’t need to know all the answers. It doesn’t even need to be the most senior group of people in he organisation. (Maybe the people who created the challenge can’t fix it.) It does need to accept responsibility, and have authority, to guide.

Coalition: what range of forces or groupings do you need to combine to deliver the change? It may be a mix of managers, board, staff, and even donors. Sometimes it’s a specific staff team asked to deliver the change and working to a brief developed by a senior grouping such as the Board.

Typically a change team is in fact an internal chosen group given a specific brief to help with a change process. They are often small in number, perhaps, a maximum of eight people, often working alongside a consultant. They normally meet regularly for a limited life – normally 3-6 months. They usually carry on doing their normal jobs so need some staffers or consultants to help deliver the change action. Importantly there are often chosen for their attitude or mindset – not their representative status or seniority.

To be successful they need:

  • A clear brief on what they have to tackle and clear guidelines about of what’s ‘off-brief.’
  • To be clear on their role – to act as a means of consultation on a change, to sell the change, etc
  • The backing of the most senior group and the time and resources to deliver the project

Change teams often benefit from some training in change processes. For example =mc recently trained all the development workers of the Law Centres Federation – acting as a kind of national change team – how to deliver the a new approach across this network.

Step 3: Develop a vision and strategy

The guiding coalition only provides you with a vehicle. To help them deliver change you need them to come up with or flesh out two other elements:

  • Vision: this is the positive energising destination you hold out to people – if you like the Promised Land that everyone will get to after the pain and long difficulty of the change. You need to be able to articulate this positive state as clearly as the Burning Platform.
  • Strategy: you need to know broadly how you’re going to get to this vision and roughly how long it will take. Your strategy should involve ‘chunking’ changes in the process. So, for example “first we’ll have the consultation, then redundancies, then the restructure, and then people will have new development opportunities.”

The vision and strategy should be written done and agreed. It can be changed as events change. But it should be a formal plan

Step 4: Communicate the change vision

You need to communicate the vision once you have developed it.

More than that you need to communicate it constantly, consistently and in many different modalities.

When the NSPCC planned their successful merger with Childline they organised a whole campaign around the movie Star Wars and how anything was possible with a coalition tackling the big evil of child harm. Interestingly the movie metaphor even allowed discussion about whether the ‘big’ NSPCC was the evil empire taking over the small fragile Childline. So the use of metaphors can be helpful in a range of ways.

Another example comes from the arts. When Peter Hewitt CEO of the national Arts unveiled his plan to combine the 12 independent Regional Arts Boards (RABs) into one organisation after almost 40 years he announced “the train was leaving the station and I want everyone (the 12 opposed RAB CEOs?) to be on board.” The metaphor signalled his determination to make the merger process happen.

If you can’t come up with a metaphor another good framework for your message is to frame it in terms of Think Feel Do. The table below illustrates this.


Your change message should contain each of these elements. If it does it will be powerful and targeted.

Step 5: Empower broad-based action

Even the senior management team can’t control the whole change process. And in order for the change to spread out even the most skillful and competent change team can’t do it all. To gain broad acceptance others throughout the organization need to feel they too have a part to play and are trusted.

So you need to break the change up into smaller projects and allow people to add to the process – for example Amnesty International spent time consulting on how individual staff members would like to have their workspaces designed when they changed the physical building as part of a wide change process. The result was that staff felt better about the change in terms of broad-based action – they had a role and a part.

This empowerment can involve a number of different approaches but the best way is simply to give small groups specific projects to do that will help contribute towards the change. These projects need to be relevant, limited in scope and capable of being delivered in a reasonable timescale autonomously.

Step 6: Generate short-term wins

Steps 5 and 6 are strongly linked. You need to ensure that the change is still seen to have momentum even when it encounters difficulties or challenges. Small wins help with this.

The wins need to be:

  • Enough so that it feels things are happening
  • Clear wins or successes
  • Communicated widely and celebrated.

The wins can be external – for example a new major donor signs up to your ideas – or internal – the restructure is finished and the new teams start work.

Make sure you make time to acknowledge and celebrate the wins. Don’t keep looking up the mountain.

Step 7: Consolidate gains and produce more change

Step 7 involves summarising what has been achieved – perhaps through a mid-term review or conference. You then need to make sure you keep the pressure on and ask for another ‘chunk’ of change which will help make more progress towards the vision in step 2.

Don’t rest or get complacent. Step 7 is a key message – you do need to keep the pressure on to deliver the vision.

Step 8: Anchor new approaches in the corporate culture

People have a habit of slipping back into ‘old’ ways of doing things after a period of “being good”. Think about how many people lose weight then put it on again or give up smoking only to start again. Organisations can do the same thing:

  • The customer care initiative fizzles out after a few months since the customers don’t seem to appreciate it and it is hard work
  • The commitment to open communication proves to take a long time so is abandoned and we go back to secret squirrel
  • The mergers ends up involving two ‘tribes’ agreeing to work alongside each other rather than developing a shared new approach to work

So the final step is to ensure that the changes you need are actually embedded in the corporate or organizational culture.


In summary, this 8-step model can be applied to almost any change process – from a re-structure, to a merger, to an innovation programme. It provides you with a route map.

But it still needs careful and flexible application – it’s not a simplistic works-every-time formula. I began with a quote from Machiavelli on how difficult change was so let’s end with one from Darwin on what makes species successful.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent but the one the most responsive to change.”

Charles Darwin The Origin of Species

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